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Re: Be that as it may

Posted by Smokey Stover on February 04, 2009 at 14:18

In Reply to: Re: Be that as it may posted by Graham Cambray on February 04, 2009 at 13:01:

: : "Be that as it may". While sitting a meeting someone said this and I thougt, where does this phrase come from?...

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: There was brief discussion back at http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/51/messages/739.html, two years ago.

: I'm not sure there's an easy or useful answer to your question. What we've got here is old-fashioned grammar, sort of fossilised because it's a generally useful form of words. I suppose the use of the subjunctive tense makes this stand out - fairly common once, but hardly heard today. "If I were you ..." is another example of its use, but it really only hangs on it set phrases that people still use because alternative formations tend to be longer and also often sound clumsier (if only because we're not used to them). Someone may be able to find a first recorded usage, but I don't know that an "origin" will be possible. (GC)

What's the syntax of "sitting a meeting"?

Mr. Cambray characterizes the phrase "Be that as it may" as using "old-fashioned grammar," and I've probably used the same words myself. But many English locutions are old, and can sound old-fashioned, but are still very current. In my experience, "Be that as it may" is very often used and heard. Self-styled wiccas say "Blessed be" (by itself) as a matter of course. Americans sing "America the Beautiful" at every possible occasion. (It uses the subjunctive in its guise as third-person imperative.) So the subjunctive is not dead yet, even though Henry Fowler seems to have devoutly wished for its demise.

Do people use the subjunctive mood instead of the indicative other than in set phrases, incorporate it into their speech and writing? I do, and I think many others do as well. People who have read a lot, or were taught by English teachers like mine, instinctively say "were" instead of "was" in appropriate contexts (such as conditions contrary to fact, as in many "if" clauses). And surely writers of poetry, even when it's drivel, find a use for the subjunctive.

But I agree with Graham that a first use is unlikely ever to show up.

I just realized that it was I who wrote the "discussion" in the archive to which Graham has referred. I would change a few things were I allowed to rewrite it. For one thing, I would suggest that the subjunctive is far more common than we sometimes think. For another, I would omit the second phrase that I suggest as carrying the same meaning. It is an ill-chosen and incorrect example.
SS